Game Review: Innovation

As some of you may have seen in the comments section of last week’s article. I’ve had a certain difficult-to-grasp game lined up as an upcoming review for some time. And since I wrote about Race for the Galaxy last week (along with its Voynich-ian manual), I thought I should take it a step further and continue the theme of hard to understand games by writing about the problems (and the good things too) in the game Innovation.

image taken from Amazon.com

Innovative is not the word I would use to describe their box art.

Innovation is to board games as Civilization is to video games… Kind of. It’s the same theme anyway, and they’re both very dense. They make you work up from very primitive technologies to the modern era and players have to race each other to the higher tiers of society so they can win the game. That’s about where the comparison ends though, because Innovation lacks one thing that Civilization has, and that’s clarity.

Clarity in the sense that Innovation codifies its gameplay into terms that could have been explained in a much clearer and cleaner fashion. They use words that I assume they chose to help them stand out, but that wish has denied them the status of a game that you can simply pick up and play with ease. Such as using the terms “Meld” instead of “Stack”, “Splay” instead of “Spread”, and “Tuck” instead of… uh… ok, well I guess “Tuck” is fine. But just like how Race for the Galaxy impedes your learning with their arcane markings, Innovation’s language isn’t concise enough for someone to learn simply through the Rules of Play handbook.

Which brings me to another problem, the handbook is just chockfull of nothing. They dropped the ball in that they don’t actually explain much of anything to you. Like the booklet completely ignores the process of gaining points. They tell you what to do with points, and their definition of score, “Your Score is the total value of all cards in your score pile.” (Thanks for telling me that, dudes), but they don’t mention how you get those points in the first place. It DOES become apparent as you play the game, but don’t you think that’s an important bit of information for first time players? A good deal of confusion could be avoided just by telling people that cards get scored by utilizing Dogma effects (another term to add to the list).

Just like Race for the Galaxy though, once you figure this game out it’ll actually become fun. Perhaps not mandatory fun like the rulebook says you must have (yes, really – “You must have it, or else.” A bit out of character, the rest of the booklet is so serious.). As long as you don’t mind measuring every action you take and counting everyone’s symbols before you play a card, then you’re going to have a nice time. And not letting that segue get away from me, the symbols on the cards are actually quite nice. I like how much theme the creators were able to exude with just a handful of basic symbols and almost no art.

The luck factor in this game is quite high, so high that the strategy of the game can get lost because everything is based on drawing cards… but it’s the kind of game that wants you to roll with the punches and react rather than plan, so I can forgive them the trespass of too-heavily-influenced-by-luck gameplay. Just if you play it, you will always have a legitimate excuse when you lose, because when you do lose, it’s rarely going to be misplays. Just the curse of the luck gods getting you down.

Image taken from http://community.spiceworks.com/images/groups/0000/1704/golden_horseshoe.jpg

Burning a golden horseshoe at dawn on the 3rd Monday of an odd month should get you back into the Luck Gods’ good graces.

I have one final praise for the game. Every card is unique. Which is pretty impressive when you consider that there a few more than 100 cards. They did a good job of not repeating powers, I’m looking at the cards and I can’t come up with anything that’s a carbon copy of another card (even accounting for age (number) changes). Kudos to Asmadi Games for managing to create so much unique content for one game, all in one box.

The thing to take away from all this…

Innovation is another game that is nearly incomprehensible the first time you take it out of the box, but can turn into a nice experience when you spend some time figuring out exactly how the game is supposed to be played. Search out some how to play videos or find a game guru to help you learn it. Alliteratively put, with an iota of ingenuity or an ounce of aid anyone can initiate appreciate of Innovation.

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Quick plug! If you’re reading this before February the 17th 2015, the Proud Mammal Name Our Platypus contest is still going on. Go win yourself a copy of ACHTUNG! Second Edition.

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